alexa Vet on call: Beekeeping made easy for urban farmers - Daily Nation

Vet on call: Beekeeping made easy for urban farmers

Saturday January 26 2019

Joseph Kamiri inspects hives in his farm in Molo.

Joseph Kamiri inspects hives in his farm in Molo. Kamiri says bees are generally friendly unless one irritates them. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
More by this Author

Do you know that you can exploit certain public assets for self-gain without breaking the law and without even being noticed? I am not advocating for pilferage because that is unethical. It would also for sure get you on the wrong side of the law with the inherent damaging consequences.

I recall my trainer in 2005 at the Njiro Wildlife Research Centre in Tanzania emphasising, “There are very few communities neighbouring public resources who can exploit the assets without offending the law. But this one is so clean that even the government will encourage you to go on with your activities.”

I had gone to the training centre with one of my colleagues for a short study on appropriate beekeeping technology. The course was an eye-opener on modern beekeeping.

Two weeks ago, I was impressed by one of my clients who has used the concept to set up a honey production unit in Nairobi. He has the advantage of bordering a public forest.

Bees are termed as “emerging livestock” along with ostriches, guinea fowls and crocodiles because they are yet to enter the mainstream livestock farming in Kenya and many other parts of the world.

My client does bee farming and honey production on a small piece of land but takes advantage of the expansive public forest next door.

Advertisement

He also has at his disposal the many acres of ornamental flowers planted by his neighbours to beautify their compounds.

While the neighbours enjoy the buzzing of the bees busy collecting nectar and pollen from their flowers free of charge, my client laughs all the way to the bank when he harvests, processes and packs honey produced by the insects.

Modern bee farming and honey production differs greatly from the traditional honey production where hives were placed in the wild and the owners would wait for bees to occupy them and produce honey at their own time. The hive owners would also compete with wild animals such as the honey burgers on who harvests the honey first.

Bee farming and honey production is currently done using scientifically designed hives and commercial honey processing equipment.

The bee farm is also kept safe and secured both physically and in terms of hygiene, just like any other modern livestock farm.

Bees are enticed to occupy the hives and provided with plenty of plant nectar or pollen producing plants on the farmer’s land and the neighbourhood.

AID IN POLLINATION

Bee farming has, however, not picked well in the country despite good quality honey being on high demand. A half kilo of quality processed honey retails at Sh500 while raw at Sh400. There are other honey products like propolis or bees glue and beeswax that add to the profitability of honey production.

People bordering public forests and parks such as Karura, Ngong and the Nairobi National Park should consider bee farming and honey production as long as they have sufficient land.

The beauty of these public assets is that they do not use any agrochemicals and, therefore, the bees are never at risk of poisoning.

In addition, most ornamental plants on neighbours’ compounds produce lots of nectar and pollen flowers and they are never sprayed with chemicals.

You see, if one is adjacent to a coffee farm or a large food crop farm and they keep bees, they may lose a large number of the bees or even whole colonies due to poisoning when the crops are sprayed.

I recall another client I had at Wangige a few years back who lost his bees due to spraying at a large coffee farm that bordered his farm.

One big advantage with bees is that after the initial investment in modern hives and equipment, the maintenance cost is very low compared to other livestock. The bees clean their hives and no disinfection is required.

Bees also go looking for their own food (nectar and pollen) from their surroundings. Labour requirements are very low.

Security against pilferage of the honey, bees or the hives is largely provided by the bees with their venomous stings battle strategy.

No one will ever complain that the bees are feeding on or destroying their plants. In fact, bees are very beneficial because they aid in pollination and help in the production of food from all flowering plants. In forests, they help in the production of fruits for wild animals and seeds for maintaining the forests.

HEART OF THE SWARM

Bees on a farm may be provided with water but they are also able to get it from nearby water bodies and the water on the flowers.

On average, bees are known to travel 500 to 800 metres frequently as they forage for pollen and nectar. They have been found to travel up to 13.5km.

A solitary bee foraging in times of scarcity has been recorded to travel 24km. Bee farmers should, however, know that when the insects travel long distances in search of food, they are not able to make honey efficiently.

In addition, population losses will be high because the bees are more exposed to predators and adverse conditions such as spraying of agricultural crops.

Many people tell me they are scared of bee farming for fear of stings. Before starting bee farming, one should get expert advice and training on the farming and honey production.

Like most animals, bees are not generally wild and they never go looking for trouble. Nonetheless, most of them are very aggressive fighters when defending their territory and their leadership.

Bees live in colonies in a hive or any other place where they have settled. Colonies are distinct and members are able to identify each other.

Their leader is called a queen and never leaves the colony home unless the bees are changing location. If bees feel threatened in the colony, they fight by stinging the attacker and pursuing them to a safe distance.

Bees on the move are called a swarm. They are very aggressive, just like a military on the move, because that is the time they are most vulnerable. The queen is protected in the heart of the swarm.

When you meet a swarm of bees, you should take the lowest position, possibly lying down and staying very still until all the bees have passed.

In a bee swarm, there is the core colony which is close-knit to protect the queen. On the periphery of the swarm are the bees that act as scouts for threats and they are the ones that will initiate an attack before reinforcements break off from the colony to neutralise the threat.